Homeschooling & the single parent
by Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist
Yes, it can be done. Yes, it takes some doing to make it work. But whether you want to homeschool for just a year or 2, or you plan to make it work long term, it’s possible.
I know of families who have continued to homeschool through separation and divorce and families who kept homeschooling through the very difficult death of a parent. There are also single parents who decide to homeschool for a variety of reasons.
I will try to address here the range of concerns you may face as a single parent homeschooler. You’ll have to weed out any information that might not pertain to your specific circumstances, as no two families are alike.
If there’s another parent in your child’s life, you’ll need to be able to do some coordinating on this. If the other parent doesn’t support homeschooling, try to at least get agreement to try it for one school year. It will have some advantages for the other parent that you might want to point out:
Easier to arrange visitation without a formal school schedule to adhere to.
No transportation issues getting the kids back to school from a visit to the other parent’s household, which is often not in the same district.
Flexible vacations and visit lengths.
No parent/teacher conferences to work into your schedules.
No expensive tuition (if the kids were attending a private school).
No fundraising projects to help with or pass around to co-workers.
Having said that, there will be some scheduling accommodations needed for any outside classes, clubs or co-op commitments that are part of your homeschooling experience. The other parent will either have to be involved in getting the children to the commitments that fall during their time, or the schedule will have to be worked around the children’s schedule to prevent missed classes or meetings. And the schedule may need to be altered each school year or each semester when commitments change. This really isn’t any different than coordinating for ball practice, dance classes or piano lessons when the kids are in public school. Consider where each parent lives and their proximity to the kids’ activities as you work out these issues. If you can both agree that the children’s activities and involvements should be the priority in working out a schedule, and you communicate clearly about commitments and plans, this can work!
If the other parent wants to be involved you can even split up instruction plans. If one parent is excited about math, that can be done during that parent’s time with the kids. If one parent enjoys creative writing or science or art, you can split these responsibilities. Again, communicating will be key.
If there isn’t another parent active in your child’s life, you can structure your homeschooling as you wish. It helps if you have some other adults as support in your endeavor – grandparents, aunts/uncles, neighbors or good friends. (See my article on making use of the experts in your life and my piece on Homeschooling and the working parent for more ideas and strategies).
Keep in mind that not all homeschooling has to be done on your own. There are co-ops that offer specific classes on certain days, or even online schools where the curriculum is all laid out. An online school might be a good first step if you have a reluctant co-parent in the mix, as online schools are public schools (free) and the work is accessible anywhere (no matter where each parent lives) by computer and without a lot of running to a class here or there as with co-ops. With online schools you aren’t homeschooling in the legal sense, you are enrolled in a charter school. So you don’t have the same paperwork and testing requirements as those who are technically homeschooling, but your kids are learning from home and don’t attend a brick and mortar school. You will be tied to the online school’s schedule and deadlines, and you won’t have any choice in the curriculum or testing used, but it can be a workable compromise for parents in disagreement about full scale homeschooling and it can be a good first step to homeschooling if you are leery of making that leap.
A cautionary bit of advice - I urge you, as a single parent in particular, to spend some time explaining your choice to homeschool and even your strategy for making it work with not only the other parent, but also with grandparents and other relatives in your child’s life. Try to elicit their support, if not their direct involvement. This will make your homeschooling journey smoother (for you and your kids) and can prevent horrendous complications down the road. People who don’t understand homeschooling can have some very odd (and often misinformed) ideas about it as a choice. Most difficulties I hear about from families who become embroiled in trouble with their district find that it all originated from a disgruntled former spouse or former in-laws complaining to the district about the homeschooling family. If a complaint is made to the district, they have to evaluate. This can bring down truancy officers and child welfare workers, and create a record for your family that shows up on background checks that can impact future employment options and apartment rentals down the road. Lay some ground work and prevent that kind of nightmare.
It’s worth your time and effort to communicate and try to elicit a cooperative dialogue about this new venture. Also pay close attention along the way to any criticism or concern that may arise and try to address them calmly and cooperatively. When I learned that my mother-in-law had started vocally questioning my homeschooling choice to others in the extended family (but never to me), I took action. I started having my sons bring their portfolios (like a scrap book of their homeschool year) along on visits with her (see my article on Portfolios). The boys sat with her and showed their collections of school work, art projects, 4h projects, play programs, and work from outside classes. I also asked her to share pictures and mementoes from her trip to China and tell the boys about her experience. Later I had the boys write a short report about what they learned from her and I sent those to her and thanked her for being part of our homeschooling adventure. These simple, inclusive steps on my part helped deal with her concerns at the family level and prevented an all-out mess if she had decided to complain more loudly. All of the trouble I have seen with other homeschooling families originated from family or neighbors. It’s possible that they are just wanting to make trouble for you, but most often, they believe they are acting out of their concern for your children, no matter how misguided that might be.
Homeschooling might feel like a huge undertaking, and in some ways it is. But it can also be a way of life. Even as a single parent, this can work. My sons were 9 and 10 when their father and I divorced. We had always homeschooled and I refused to put them in school (yet another disruption in their lives). Instead of working outside the home, I started doing daycare in our home for a couple neighbor families, which kept me home to homeschool the boys. Then I started doing Peabody testing from home. When the boys were old enough to be home alone for portions of the day, I offered testing at people’s homes. While I was away, the boys had their list of things to do- some school work and some household chores. We continued to participate in 4H, activities at our library and through community ed and parks & rec.
If you have unsupportive people in your life, there are steps you can take to make sure you can defend your homeschooling choice when challenged (whether defending it to a school superintendent or in divorce court).
It can be helpful to participate with a co-op or homeschool group, even just marginally. Most people have this image of homeschoolers never letting their kids out of the house. If you have documented interactions and participation in things, it helps (on paper) for the courts to support your choice. And it gives you potential other parents who can attest to the kids having friends and activities and normalcy in their lives. You’ll want to journal all the things they do outside the home and with others for a while—or keep a good calendar.
Also be sure to document the things you are doing to accommodate any difficulties the kids are having academically. Any online practice games or programs, tutoring, special curriculum, and even reading that you do online or at the library to learn new strategies to bolster areas of weakness. My website has a whole section on helping children who struggle and resources by subject (Math, Reading, Spelling etc) for any area a child might find challenging. The key is to find what works for your child. So document your journey to finding that path.
If you have supportive friends and family nearby, you can work and have someone staying with the kids or at least looking in on them regularly, depending on the age of your children. There is school work they can do on their own, or you can do lessons when you’re at home together. Any work shift can be accommodated. There’s no law that says homeschooling has to happen between 8am and 3pm Monday through Friday. You can use documentaries and other educational programing online, or Netflix etc, that can be watched from anywhere as part of their learning. Families homeschool while on missions trips. I know a family who homeschooled as they sailed around the world in a boat they built themselves. Homeschooling doesn’t have to fit the “typical” image of schooling. Learning can happen in a multitude of ways on whatever schedule works for you and your children. (see my article on homeschooling outside the box and homeschooling on a shoestring). Give yourself permission to tailor this to your life and it will be a much better fit, even if you’re parenting alone.